SOFT & QUIET (SXSW 2022)


SXSW 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. If you prefer your movies light-hearted, good-natured, and relaxing to the spirit, then you need to avoid writer-director Beth de Araujo’s first feature film at all costs. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more uncomfortable watching a movie than I was during this one. Whatever you do, don’t assume that a story featuring a group of young women meeting in a church for snacks and socializing will be cute or funny. This is neither. In fact, I’m at a loss for the properly descriptive words.

It doesn’t take long for us to realize these ladies aren’t soccer moms here to discuss cupcake recipes or romance novels. When Kindergarten teacher Emily (Stefanie Estes) pulls the cover back from the homemade pie she baked, the swastika carved into the crust is clear as day. Their club, “Daughters for Aryan Unity”, is actually a group of racist bigots filled with extreme hatred towards people of color. Their stated mission is ‘multi-cultural warfare’ and standing up for the place in society they have earned. One of Emily’s phrases is “feminine, not feminist”, and she explains why. This conversation continues until the Pastor overhears and kicks them out of his church.

Adding to the tension and contributing to the profuse feeling of disgust is the filmmaker’s decision to avoid cuts and present real time in one continuous shot. We never get a breather from these despicable people. The big concern with bigotry is that unforgivable words can shift into dangerous actions, and that’s what happens here. A store confrontation over a bottle of wine leads to a prank that goes horribly awry.

I’m not sure if the film is meant as a lead-in to serious dialogue on the topic, or whether it’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of racism and bigotry. Perhaps it’s a reminder that racism and evil behavior is not limited to southern rednecks in pickup trucks. Whatever purpose Ms. de Araujo had in mind, the film (even with a surprise ending) is certainly uncomfortable to watch.

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